Stockton is home to a program dedicated to helping youth find and develop themselves through poetry, spoken word and other outlets.
With Our Words started in 2003 and became a nonprofit 2006, evolving from the Color in the Valley arts festival.
“With Our Words is a long standing, Stockton/Central Valley Non-Profit that uses spoken word and slam poetry to connect young adults to academic social justice and community service,” said founder Tama Brisbane.
With Our Words is a program dedicated to the development of its students, with the hopes that what they learn in the program motivates them rise to the challenges set for them in school and succeed beyond it.
“Because we have a 99 percent high school graduation rate and a 94 percent college attendance rate, I really am fond of the stories of kids who were struggling in school, came into our poetry collective or made it our national slam team and had the academics click because of the amount of time they spent writing and reading and researching and editing and realizing that that applies to their school life,” said Brisbane.
Brisbane hopes students leave With Our Words knowing they have a voice they can add to conversations across the country.
“Knowing that they can travel from the edge to the center of things and not lose themselves in the process and to grow themselves in the process,” said Brisbane “I want them to know that they can become part of national conversation, that they can become part of actual change in their community.”
With Our Words teaches students how to develop their poems by encouraging them to add an element of the environment they live in into their poems, from food to immigration issues.
“We are always trying to get our students to look at and learn from where we are in terms of our environment. Always have an environmental thread to our writing talking about: food, water, immigration issues. And that requires reading, writing, researching, editing. Even when we’re doing poetry for the fun of it, that educational piece doesn’t go away, there are structures to the poems. The literacy has to be there, it’s what we do, we’re poets,” said Brisbane.
With Our Words has grown from it’s humble beginnings. Students have gone from small competitions at the programs teen center, to being featured on HBO.
With Our Words has opened for big hip-hop names such as Lupe Fiasco and Common, to touring with the Parker String Quartet.
Among the students to attend With Our Words is former Delta College student Aaron Chapman.
He was roped into the program after a couple of his best friends decided to join and dragged him along.
“Two of my best friends, they kind of forced me to join in high school. I was that knucklehead kid freestyle rap because I thought it was cool. That’s all I was doing, and my friends were like ‘you gotta come to this thing’… finally they dragged me to the classroom… I was jotting down stuff trying to be the cool guy,” said Chapman. “Tama brought me up and ask me ‘what are you writing about,’ and I happened to be writing something about my auntie and she looked at it and she said I should perform out and I was like ‘no I’m not doing that’… so finally Tama got me to do it and I broke down and everybody was like ‘that was dope!”
Chapman has come a long way from being what he described as ‘that knucklehead kid’ due to his time learning within With Our Words.
“I’m a better writer and With Our Words has allowed me to kind of grow as a writer. I’m maturing as an adult, I’m almost 25, I started out with W.O.W when I was fifteen. Fifteen year old me compared to twenty five year old me I would tell fifteen year old me to stick closer to W.O.W because at times I did stray from the program, tried to do my own thing… it gave me the courage to explore more artistry and how I am as a writer,” said Chapman.
The program helped develop Chapman’s major hobbies, from writing lyrics and songs to developing and refining his poetry to his main goal: having his poetry published.